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Snow siege in San Bernardino Mountains sows desperation as crews struggle to clear roads


As crews scrambled to clear snowy roads in the San Bernardino Mountains, many residents were left stranded Monday amid growing frustration over the days-long delays to help locals who have been under lockdown for more than 10 days with almost no food and drink. more medicines.

More than 100 inches of snow has fallen in the San Bernardino Mountains in recent days, stranding an unknown number of residents of the mountain communities.

Now state and local agencies are working to clear the snow piles using heavy machinery, including graders, front loaders, dump trucks, snow plows and snow blowers. Officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Office of Emergency Management, the California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard are in the mountain communities to help local agencies excavate residents from their homes and clear the roads, it said. governor’s office.

Nearly 60 Caltrans employees cleared more than 7.2 million cubic feet of snow from San Bernardino County state highways Saturday, according to Governor Gavin Newsom’s office. Private contractors removed an additional 970,000 cubic feet of snow from State Routes 18 and 330, the statement said.

As of Sunday, 51 miles of roads have been cleared, out of a total of more than 400 miles of roads that have been maintained, according to the province. The province estimates that nearly 90 kilometers of roads still need to be cleared.

The slow pace of road clearance has become a source of growing anger in mountain communities. To make matters worse, residents have experienced gas leaks, fires and roof collapses due to the snow, and authorities have struggled to provide assistance.

Firefighters have used snowmobiles they typically deploy for backcountry rescues to respond to emergency calls in residential areas.

Volunteer crews on land and in the air have tried to help by delivering supplies by helicopter.

The intensity of the snow – which led to rare blizzard warnings – surprised emergency services.

Snow plows that usually clear mountain roads were ineffective, forcing crews to work around the clock with front loaders and hand shovels to clear snow berms to reach communities still snowbound as of Friday.

“When it comes to clearing the roads, I’d say we’ve learned some valuable lessons,” San Bernardino County Fire Chief Dan Munsey said at a joint news conference with state and local officials.

“Unfortunately, the snow fell so fast and piled up so quickly that the front-end plows we were so accustomed to routinely using were no longer effective.”

According to the San Bernardino County Fire Department, firefighters have had to lug their equipment through the snow and dig to access hydrants, losing valuable time to respond to the emergencies.

At least two people were injured in a house fire in the community of Blue Jay, about a mile from Lake Arrowhead Village, on Wednesday afternoon.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and Southern California Gas Co. is working with emergency responders to address reports of gas leaks, said Michael McClintock, chief of the San Bernardino County Fire Brigade Battalion.

Newsom on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County and a dozen other storm-hit counties, freeing up state resources like the National Guard to help.

With some areas closed off, volunteers came to the rescue.

Crestline resident Max Strawn, 30, was one of dozens of local volunteers who volunteered to help their neighbors.

He said Saturday he waded through waist-deep snow to deliver boxes of groceries to people with disabilities and elderly residents in the area.

“These are just the ones we know about,” he said. “I know there are people we miss.”

Dawn Diggle, 42, who lives in Crestline’s Valley of Enchantment, said the streets in her neighborhood were finally cleared on Saturday of about six feet of snow that had been accumulating for more than a week.

She said about 1,000 people showed up at a store on Friday for food boxes that never arrived.

“Everyone left empty-handed,” said Diggle. “All this bureaucracy really slows things down.”

The situation improved on Saturday, when she and other volunteers distributed boxes of milk, pasta, beans, rice and canned goods from the state to about 500 people. She said a restaurant also delivered cheeses, fresh peppers and deli meats that she and other volunteers distributed in freezer bags for residents.

“Everyone is desperate,” she said.

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